Land sales and disposals

This fact sheet is aimed primarily at people who have concerns that the council did not follow the correct procedures when disposing of some land and may be considering making a complaint to the Ombudsman.

I am unhappy about the council’s decision to sell or dispose of land or buildings; or about the way it went about such a sale or disposal. Can the Ombudsman help me?

Yes, in some circumstances. Councils have the right to dispose of their assets (such as land or buildings), and they have fairly wide discretion to do this in any manner they wish. Generally they have to obtain the best price they can for those assets. 

The Ombudsman cannot question councils’ legal rights to sell or otherwise dispose of land, or question the merits of their decisions about whether and how to do it. We can look into complaints about administrative fault in the decision-making process. 

But cannot deal with a complaint that affects all or most people living within the Council’s area. By “most”, we mean the majority of people living in the area. Likewise, we would not usually investigate complaints that a council has been ‘wasting public money’ or ‘could have obtained a higher price’ - the person complaining needs to show that he or she has been personally affected by the matter. 

How do I complain?

You should normally complain to the council first. Councils often have more than one stage in their complaints procedure and you will usually have to complete all stages before we will look at your complaint.

Then, if you are unhappy with the outcome, or the council is taking too long to look into the matter – we think 12 weeks is reasonable – you can complain to us.

You should normally make your complaint to us within 12 months of realising that the council has done something wrong.

For more information on how to complain, visit our contact us page or complete an online complaint form.

If you can consider my complaint what will the Ombudsman look for?

We consider whether the council has done something wrong in the way it dealt with the sale or disposal of its assets and whether this has affected you adversely. Some of the issues we might be able to look at are if the council:

  • goes back on its agreement to sell or lease land or property that it owns
  • gives you misleading or inaccurate information about the land or buildings that it is selling or disposing of
  • fails to carry out any necessary consultation with those affected by the sale
  • delays unreasonably in disposing of derelict property, or
  • fails to follow its procedures, or has no procedures, for disposing of land.

What happens if the Ombudsman finds that the council was at fault?

It depends on what went wrong and how that affected you. If we find that something has gone wrong, we can ask the council to:

  • take action to put the matter right
  • remedy any financial loss, or
  • review or improve its procedures to make sure the same problems do not happen in future.

Examples of some complaints we have considered

Mr B complained about the council’s handling of his relative’s attempted purchase of council owned land. He said the council delayed in finalising the sale of the land and in dealing with his complaint about the matter. We found the council was at fault for the way it handled the request to buy the land. We recommended the council make a payment which would allow the sale to be completed, apologise to Mr B and make a payment to him for the distress and inconvenience he suffered.
Mr and Mrs B complained about the council’s sale of a small area of land near their house to a neighbour. They say the Council ignored the objections it received to the proposed sale and did not properly consider their access rights over the land. Mr and Mrs B also say the council failed to obtain best consideration for the land as there was a higher offer from another party. The Ombudsman found no fault in the processes followed other than the Council took too long to respond to Mr and Mrs B which the Council had already apologised for.
Mr X complained that the council was at fault in the way it carried out public consultation over a decision to dispose of Open Space Land and in the way it recorded the result of a statutory public consultation period. The Ombudsman found no evidence of fault in the way the council considered these matters.

Our fact sheets give some general information about the most common type of complaints we receive but they cannot cover every situation. If you are not sure whether we can look into your complaint, please contact us.

We provide a free, independent and impartial service. We consider complaints about the administrative actions of councils and some other authorities. We cannot question what a council has done simply because someone does not agree with it. If we find something has gone wrong, such as poor service, service failure, delay or bad advice and that a person has suffered as a result we aim to get it put right by recommending a suitable remedy.

July 2020

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